My younger daughter, Alex, is celebrating her birthday today and some of her girl friends are spending the weekend with us. Tonight was the big birthday dinner and we’re expecting a few more of her friends to arrive. Alex asked only for three dishes for her birthday dinner — baked mac, chicken yakitori and tres leches cake.
The baked mac recipe is among the top ten most visited pages in my food blog. It’s been cooked by a lot of mothers for their children’s birthday parties; it has also figured in adult get-togethers. I am appreciative of the many e-mails readers have sent over the years; some have been kind enough to share photos of the baked mac that they have prepared. In short, the baked mac is a crowd pleaser in a really huge way.
Last weekend, when we were talking about tonight’s menu, I automatically added vegetable salad to sort of balance everything. Sam is vegetarian, after all — what would she eat? I figured that aside from the salad, I could prepare a separate vegetarian dish just for her. Earlier today, as I started cooking, I decided to make a vegetarian version of the immortal baked mac.
Essentially, it is the same recipe as the baked mac in the archive. The only marked difference is the substitution of chopped mushrooms for all the meat ingredients. I used dried oyster mushrooms which I rehydrated and I used the soaking water in lieu of meat broth.
The only “new” twist is the use of Himalayan pink salt. I’m no salt connoisseur, it’s just salt, prettier in color and probably safer because the place where it is harvested is still relatively unpolluted.
Simmering the sauce took less time because there was no meat to cook. Still, I simmered it long enough to reduce to make sure that the flavors are concentrated and the vegetables are sufficiently softened. Then, I stirred in the cooked pasta.
I made the Mornay sauce (full instructions are in the baked mac post), topped the pasta with it, baked the dish until bubbly and lightly browned, and…
There’s Sam’s vegetarian baked mac amid the dishes that Alex requested. The only one not in the photo is the tres leches cake. Will post a photo of that later.